The traditional karate uniform is known as a gi or dogi. It is usually white, made of canvas and has no zippers, buttons or other hard fasteners. The jacket is worn overlapped and tied like a kimono, and the pants are held up with a canvas drawstring. A gi earns a reputation for quality if it is durable, crisp but not irritatingly stiff, truly white and not slightly yellow.
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Tokaido is one of the oldest, best-known high-end gi manufacturers. Based in Japan, the company has been selling gi all over the world for more than 55 years. The gi are hand-cut and sewn from fabric that has a reputation for durability. The quality comes with a higher price tag, however, with Tokaido's tournament gi costing about $200, as of April 2011.
Shureido is the other well-known, long-standing, high-end gi manufacturer. Based in Okinawa, Shureido sells a duck canvas heavyweight gi with a characteristic pale blue color. Because the company blues its fabric to guard against yellowing, a new Shureido gi is almost baby blue until it has been washed a few times. After washing, though, Shureido holds its white color well. It is a durable, hard-wearing gi. Shureidos sell for about $200 to $250, as of April 2011.
Tokon, which is called Kamikazi in Europe, and not to be confused with gi sold under the name Kamikazi in the United States, is an old, reliable German-made brand. It has a tournament line, which is slightly wider and shorter than the traditional cut. The company also has a line designed specifically for Shito-ryu, Goju-ryu and Wado-ryu stances. The prices are around $150, as of April 2011.
Toyo is another Japanese-manufactured gi. It is cut on a traditional Japanese pattern. Like the Shureido, it is made of No. 10 canvas and has been treated to resist shrinking, a common problem in all-cotton gi. It is commonly regarded as a durable, high-end gi, though in the United States, it is not as famous as Tokaido or Shureido. The gi sells for about $180, as of April 2011.
Meijin gi are one of the newer brands. These gi were designed under the advisement of several masters with the intent of producing an American-made gi that could rival Shureido and Tokaido. Meijin offers underarm gussets and a waistband lined with cotton gauze to prevent bunching. It also has split sizes, allowing you to match a jacket to pants of a different size. Though not time-tested, the brand is getting favorable reviews. The price is typically between $100 and $150, as of April 2011.
Kwon, another German manufacturer, began making tae kwon do uniforms. It sells several karate gi: traditional cut, kumite, kata and a premium gi. Most of its gi are made of a distinctive brushed cotton fabric that is crisp but soft against the skin. The gi are approved by the World Karate Federation for tournament wear. The gi reatils for about $100, as of April 2011.
Jukado International produces the Juka and Dragon gi lines. Juka is the high-end gi, Dragon the student gi. The Juka gi come in 12- and 14-ounce brushed canvas in both a traditional and tournament cut. Juka also offers the Juka Diamond, a gi cut specifically for women. The Dragon 10-ounce is a light heavyweight gi cut on the same pattern as the Juka gi but of a cheaper canvas. The Juka gi sell for $90 to $120 and the Dragon for $55 to $75, as of April 2011.
Century offers both midweight and heavyweight gi. Century uses a nontraditional, but comfortable, elastic waist on some of its gi. It also offers cotton/polyester blends and split sizes. The jackets of its gi tend to be a bit shorter than traditional Japanese gi, and the gi are cut for Americans. They are priced at $90 to $180, as of April 2011, depending on quality and features.
Mugen is a brand better known in Europe than the United States. It is an affordable 100 percent cotton 12-ounce brushed canvas tournament gi. The cut is similar to the Toyo, but at $70 to $80 the Mugen is cheaper, as of April 2011.
It was probably inevitable that Adidas would eventually manufacture a karate gi. It was probably also inevitable that the gi would differ from the traditional gi that came before it. Adidas Master Kumite gi are made of lightweight 55 percent cotton, 45 percent polyester. It has an elastic waist and sports the Adidas logo on the right chest. The Adidas Master Kumite may not be strictly traditional, but it has been endorsed by the World Karate Federation.